AL MVP Shohei Ohtani’s free-agency decision could come down to one number that has nothing to do with money, according to MLB columnist Bob Nightengale of USA Today.
Per Nightengale, the Los Angeles Dodgers contacted veteran relief pitcher Joe Kelly this week to ask if he would give up his No. 17 uniform to allow Ohtani to keep his number. Ohtani has worn No. 17 since making his big league debut with the Los Angeles Angels in 2018.
Kelly wore No. 58 during his first two-plus seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals (2012-14) and then No. 56 during his days with the Boston Red Sox (2014-18). The hard-throwing righty has sported No. 17 since 2019 while playing for both the Dodgers and Chicago White Sox.
Kelly reportedly signed a one-year, $8 million deal last week to remain with Los Angeles, though the contract hasn’t been officially announced yet. Nightengale reported that Kelly told team officials that he’d be honored to switch numbers to accommodate the two-way stud.
“The uniform request may mean nothing. Or it could mean absolutely everything,” Nightengale wrote. “One GM told USA TODAY Sports that the Dodgers would have no reason to request a player to change his uniform number unless they truly believed Ohtani was signing with them.”
For what it’s worth, the insider added that both the Dodgers and Ohtani’s representatives declined comment.
For months, the club has been viewed as one of the favorites to land the once-in-a-century talent. Manager Dave Roberts made headlines on Tuesday, however, when he confirmed that the team met with Ohtani last Friday at Dodger Stadium.
This is notable because ESPN’s Jeff Passan wrote in November that if the designated hitter/pitcher’s visits with organizations became public, it would “be held against the team.”
Nightengale further explained that the Dodgers postponed stadium tours and closed their team store when they met with Ohtani to “prevent any public sightings” of the 29-year-old.
It’s been reported recently that Ohtani has also visited with the San Francisco Giants and Toronto Blue Jays, though team officials haven’t been willing to confirm the meetings.
When Roberts answered reporters’ questions honestly on Tuesday, many felt he had blown any shot the team had at landing the three-time All-Star. Perhaps Kelly’s willingness to change numbers has kept the Dodgers in the running.
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